Germany is on a roll. The 2017 vintage, the third of a string of successes, shows more richness and depth than the winsome and charming 2016’s. It is a vintage of intensity and drama, particularly for the higher end bottlings. “If 2016 is a well-told joke, 2017 is a magnificently constructed argument…if you’re a serious kind of person (and a taster who appreciates no-nonsense wines) you’ll be richly pleased by these 2017s” reports Terry Theise. “It is a serious tasting vintage, by no means unfriendly, but levity does not obtrude upon it. There are certainly some charming wines, and there are loads of delicious wines, but ’17 is a vintage of dark character whereas ’16 was lyric and bright.”
There are two major notes to consider when buying your 2017’s. First, you have to pay attention to the Mosel and Pfalz. This is where 2017 really shines, especially in the Pfalz, where the acid and richness score a perfect balance. Secondly, go for the Auslese. This is some of the best Auslese I have come across, even better than 2015. Yes, that’s right. For some producers, 2017 is even better than 2015. They are intensely individual, infinitely age-worthy, flat out beautiful wines.
Lastly for me personally I am building my collection over the following producers: Carl Loewen, von Winning and Selbach-Oster. Merkelbach, of course, as well. And if I had the money, Dönnhoff.
Below you will find my picks of 2017 wines that are my absolute favorites, what I see as the cream of the offer. Terry’s notes below. Enjoy!
2017 Spreitzer Estate Riesling Trocken
This is effing delicious! I know, I know, but it’s small wonder you’ve responded to it with such enthusiasm (and thirst); it’s winsome, diligent, juicy and articulate, with a perfect dialogue of Rhine-front juiciness (mostly from Oestrich) and hillside nutty clarity (mostly from Hallgarten); it’s wonderful, and please remember—no German dry estate Riesling of this quality existed ten years ago—hell, five!
2017 Muller-Catoir “MC” Scheurebe Trocken
Almost delicate but entirely typical of Scheu’s sage-like profile; but what mineral focus this has! Even more than the Rieslings, improbably, the salty etching of sage, ginger, quince and mineral is lovely. Incredibly expressive for a wine so light on its feet.
2017 Carl Loewen Riesling Maximiner Klosterlay
This wine tastes dry and should be dry enough for anyone who isn’t a troglodyte. The fragrance is beautiful! The palate is lapidary, sophisticated, herbal and oolong-y; a calm flowing caress of flavor leads into a really complex finish—you could take dictation from these flavors.
2017 Diel Burg Layen Riesling Trocken
(It’s the village-wine, but wow does it punch above its weight…) It was the first wine that felt different to me; delicate, affectionate, almost consoling; a sweetly slatey wine with a sweet disposition; freesia and apple, perfect beauty in a tiny little jewel box; a dancing flickering miracle. Such a wine will make you feel better even if you forgot why you were ever sad.
2017 von Winning Reiterpfad Erste Lage Trocken
Again the ludicrous upgrade of ’17—this would be a “GG” in any other vintage—tortillas, guava and lemon rind; spicy, firm, a demiglace of ginger and Tasmanian pepper (especially floral); tastes drier than it smells. Huge finish.
2017 Künstler Hochheimer Kirchenstück Riesling Kabinett Trocken
One of the best two sites in Hochheim—the other being Domdechaney—this is in fact a “GG,” and it’s not supposed to be offered as a “Kabinett.” Why then is it? The answer is so logical it calls the entire wisdom of the VDP into question. Gunter picks when the grapes are ripe and clean, because if he waits he runs the risk of having overripe and/or botrytis-y material, neither of which he desires. The result of his eminently sensible decision is a wine with alcohol around 12.5% that tastes like the site. Such thinking is anything but radical, yet it runs afoul of the “system” and thus our hero is a calm and reasonable outlaw. The ’17 has a magnificent aroma, and it had only just been bottled. A complex chord of root and rock dust and garrigue; implosively but deftly intense; spicy, a bacchanal of terroir! True Riesling lovers: Your toes will curl and your scalps will tingle.
2017 Carl Loewen Riesling Maximiner Herrenberg “1896” Trocken
From the ancient vineyard but this is made in the prevailing way. And oh boy…this is one of the great wines in this estate’s history. Classic and ecstatic slate-sassafrass fragrance; a fantastically expressive palate, naked crushed slate and yet withal this inner stillness, like Bach in a reverie between triple fugues. This lives in the home of intricate rarefied loveliness, made more poignant by its calm interior life. So much flavor, so little stress to hurl it at you.
2017 Dönnhoff Felsenberg Riesling Grosses Gewächs "Felsenturmchen"
Perhaps the apex of porphyry (though it contains decomposed melaphyr also), and I would argue this is the finest expression of what I deem to be Riesling’s most noble home. I could write at great length about the flavor of porphyry-grown Riesling, among wine’s greatest miracles. Suffice it to say, these wines taste as though they were made by a vizier with a boiling cauldron and a set of a hundred spice boxes. It’s hard to fathom such wines coming from prosaic grapes and dirt, and yet they do. And while any solidly competent grower lucky enough to have Riesling sites on this soil will make fascinating wine, Dönnhoff is like Bach, another order of being.This ’17 is precisely what this wine is in its best vintages.
2017 Dönnhoff Hermannshöhle Riesling Grosses Gewächs
What can I say about this Icon anymore? The ’17 is a great beauty, with stuffing and detail, seeming to unite the depth and muscle of 2012 with the filigree detail of 2013.
Feinherb (a tiny suggestion of sweetness)
2017 Kruger-Rumpf Estate Riesling
One of this offering’s most seamlessly perfect Rieslings, it’s curvaceous and cannot possibly be more pure or charming.
2017 Minges Scheurebe Feinherb
It’s an essentially perfect wine and a basically perfect vintage of it. Tangelo and fennel but don’t worry about that jazz, just drink, smack your lips, repeat.
2017 Selbach-Oster Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese Feinherb “Alte Reben”
2017 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese Feinherb “Ur-Alte Reben”
Tasting the ’17 Domprobst I had to wonder—is there really any way for Mosel Riesling to be better than this? It’s like 150 years of Mosel beauty and love encapsulated in this glass. But also the undergirding of gorgeously unyielding stone and starch and salt. It’s Domprobst, the wine that stands at attention, the wine with .07% body-fat, the pistachio-crunch and the quince pucker. Every true Mosel lover cherishes this vineyard! The Ur-Alte Sonnenuhr is more oblong, richer, spherical; in ’17 it’s less explicit than Domprobst, but these are deep rich waters here, a wine of interiors. More introverted, more drawn to the seethe and the silence of the depths.
2017 Carl Loewen Riesling “1896” Feinherb
It was my wine of the vintage a year ago and it is again now. Again. All the way into the exquisite inscrutable soul of terroir, not only the soil this time, but also the sum of the longings of every human who crossed paths with this amazing place. A wine of the ultimate interior, where weight doesn’t exist any more, yet where some core of life is stored, reposing, waiting for you to arrive. It’s the culminated essence of slate-apple-balsam that is the outer skin of Mosel wine, but like Dönnhoff’s Brücke can be, it’s also an ur-paradigm of Riesling ad of the souls who swim in its glowing green waters.
2017 Schneider Riesling Kabinett
This year it’s (Niederhäuser) Pfaffenstein and Rosenberg plus Norheimer Kirschheck, and it’s a gracious elegant vintage with an edge of balsam-fir and oolong leafiness; a sweet ginger note in a wine that isn’t very sweet. We even have some phenolic texture to contend with. When has this wine not over-delivered?
2017 Carl Loewen Longuicher Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett
Ungrafted vines planted in 1903. Honestly I was lost for words at this point. Did they not make an ordinary wine in 2017?? This is every element of ’17 at its best—and forgive me, but WHERE ELSE can you get an estate-bottled wine from 115 year old vines for this kind of money?
2017 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Kabinett
Perfect! Can you tell I was getting tired of writing notes? Who the fuck needs it? It’s almost painful to slow it down, especially if you’ve written notes for, like, twenty nine vintages of the same wine. So one sip, and perfect! 2017 really swells the slate chord and pushed the density and power. Forget “Kabinett;” this is stunning Mosel Riesling. (“Perfect!”)
2017 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett
Apple apple apple and more apple, Cox-Orange, and several buckets’ worth. Balsam and slate arrive, but this wine is fruit-driven o an almost unheard-of degree. Silky, almost sedate but too giddy with its apple-euphoria to hold still for long.
2017 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett
This shows the typical quince of Domprobst; it feels both lissome and tensile and crisply dry; a lot of class and polish, firm and snappy.
2017 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling Spätlese
The best vintage ever. It has some explosive fructose to assimilate,but has decades to do it.
2017 Merkelbach Kinheimer Rosenberg Riesling Spätlese #1
Now this is a Merkelbach wine! Explosively fresh and spicy; here the botrytis is positive; the wine is energetic and flourishing, recalling the ‘15s. You can’t help but love it. It’s sweeter than they usually bottle but acidity carries it.
2017 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
The mid-palate salty syrup is different from the extroverted attack of Schlossberg. This is the chords first and the melody later. An Iliad and Odyssey of slate, sublime fruit, endless gentle depth. If you’re not stilled and thankful here, then why not, and when?
2017 Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese
Ultra-refined, and with ‘17’s acidity not exactly tamed but neither is it yelping and snapping; complex fruit as-such, not as part of an interplay among obvious slate and citrus and herbs. A surmise of botrytis is hovering on the periphery…
2017 Willi Schaefer Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
Schaefer’s ‘17s seem to almost exaggerate the native characteristics of each site; in this case the herb-and-lime custard in its cool creamy form, floating near the palate in a strange articulate glow. Serene yet quite definite, just self-contained. Wehlen suffered less than Graach from crop loss (and had less botrytis) and I really loved this wine and Selbach’s Auslese.
2017 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese #5
Riesling mastery here; sensational fruit seems to move in writhing gliding waves, around corners and over the hedge and weaving through the copse; almost as herbal and orchid-y as the Wehlener; at once rippling and eager yet aglow with calmly ravishing fruit. There’s a girding of stern acidity but it cannot obtrude on the elegance of this wonderful wine.
2017 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spätlese
Believe me, I know it doesn’t matter what I write about this wine. It’s an Icon, one of the few truly indispensable German wines, and I’ve written 25 years worth of tasting notes for it and am still nowhere close to sussing the creature. (There were a few good turns of phrase en route, though, don’t you think?) So, but, in contrast to its fellow ‘17s, this gave every impression of brilliance and balance, a filigree sleek profile with anise-hyssop notes, embedded muscle of the ‘17s, and as always a morse-code of distance and mystery
2017 Merkelbach Urziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese "Lang Pitcher" #7
All from the great cadaster Lang Pichter, this is really remarkable; huge fruit served by positive botrytis, classic “big-vintage” mien; a grand conversation among strawberry and kiwi and licorice and all with lovely surging fruit.
2017 Selbach-Oster Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese
Again different from the others. Perhaps a bit sweeter, but it has a clearer line and more tangible acidity; salty and with sublime fruit. It made me think of a BA from the great 1975.
2017 Eugen Müller Forster Kirchenstück Riesling Auslese
If I have a legacy-wine in this offering, this is it; I’ve never failed to offer it and it’s never failed to be at least wonderful, and at best— such as now—profound. It joins the great vintages, 91, 93, 02, 08, and it may be better than all of them; it’s on the dry side, the word “magnificent” isn’t too grandiose; the wine defines complexity; salt, spices (cloves, nutmeg, cardamom) mint, dried flowers, some lovely wistful potpourri of fragrant reverie. Kirchenstück is a tender noble dream of mystery in 2017, and the more it’s explained, the more obscure it becomes. Put it this way: If you don’t love Pechstein you don’t have a heart, and if you don’t love Kirchenstück you don’t have a soul.
2017 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Himmelreich Riesling "Anrecht"
2017 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Riesling "Schmitt"
2017 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling "Rotlay"
The ’17 Anrecht is the lightest of the trio; it actually reminded me of a concentrate of the Halbtrocken Kab, but it may just have the most in reserve. Schmitt showed botrytis (as they all did) but what a concatenation of mineral and herbs! Rotlay on the other hand is just sick, maybe the best one since the 2004 though it’s more similar to ’05.
2017 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Riesling Auslese "Goldkapsel" 375 ml
Their Ausleses are never baby-BAs but rather culminated Spätleses, as though they were the bursting into flower of the tight little bud. This wine is salty and ever-graceful, and it’s still finding its guide-beacon, but the tiny hint of (healthy) botrytis is awfully poignant.
2017 Dönnhoff Niederhäuser Hermannshöhle Riesling Auslese 375 ml
The fruit is for all intents and purposes unbelievable. Now let’s watch what the acidity does.
2017 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonenuhr Riesling TBA 375 ml
These two were the purest and most refined of a scrum-o-stickies.